8 Small Business Tech Innovations to Watch in 2021 and Beyond

Small business tech innovations will help business owners expand their firms. These eight innovations are the most promising in 2020 and beyond.

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The business world is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. Expect the upcoming decade to feature an explosion in small business tech innovations, presenting both opportunity and danger for you.

The danger, specifically, is in doing nothing while your competition adapts and thrives, siphoning customers from your business. You don't want that, so explore what innovations are out there and which ones you should implement in your business.

Here are eight business tech innovations to watch in 2020 and beyond, and how to implement them in your company.


Enhanced data analytics

Data has long been important in the small business world, but expect it to take a much bigger role in the coming years.

Businesses will rise and fall based on their ability not only to gather data, but to organize and digest it in ways that lead to actionable insights, both in terms of how they connect with customers and how they improve their business processes.

You may have been able to manage before, but in the coming years you won’t be able to keep up with the competition without strong data analytics.

Many companies today offer business analytics as a service, so you don’t have to have your own in-house team doing the work. In the coming years, it should be easier and cheaper to get access to in-depth data and insights.

It’s not good enough to just collect data. Many companies have lots of “dark” data, meaning it’s unusable and just “collecting dust” as it were. Once you gather the data, you need tools to process it that generate insights that can inform business decisions.

Real-world example: A Coca-Cola executive said in a recent interview they use data to improve on "brand experiences" with customers. For example, if they find through analytics that consumers don't want to be bothered with ads that aren't relevant to them, they adapt to better target their ads to the right people at the right time.


Cloud-based HR

The big obstacles to starting a business often are all those expensive logistics. You can’t just come up with a great product idea and give a check to some employees to do the work. You need a human resources infrastructure that adds a lot of expense and complexity to your small business.

Fortunately, cloud-based HR services are becoming more common. They make it easier to manage your employees while also providing convenience to your workforce, such as self-service apps.

These HR tools can help with recruitment, onboarding, and training, so you can focus on selling your product and expanding your business.

Real-world example: The Blueprint has reviewed the top HR software platforms, such as Zoho People, CakeHR, and Namely HR, so check out a few options to see if one fits your business. Zoho People, for example, lets you sign up for $1/month per user and get features like time-off management, employee onboarding, and self-service tools.

A screenshot of Zoho People’s performance dashboard.

Zoho People’s dashboard is simple and visual, making HR management easier. Source: Zoho People.


AI chatbots

If you haven’t given AI-powered chatbots a try, now’s the time to do it. AI chatbots engage with customers using a conversational tone and help them with simple activities that would normally bog down your customer service staff. The algorithms governing AI chatbots are getting more sophisticated each year.

Statistics show that chatbots can cut operational costs by up to 30%, and 50% of businesses plan to spend more on chatbots than mobile apps — so don't get left behind.

Besides taking the load off your workforce, chatbots can also answer people's immediate needs 24 hours per day, which increases customer satisfaction.

Real-world example: Check out customer service software to find chatbot software that can help you here. For example, LiveChat combines online chat and support functions with tools that can boost e-commerce sales and create help tickets for existing customers.

A screenshot of LiveChat’s dashboard showing recent chats.

LiveChat uses a chat system for managing customer interactions. Source: LiveChat.


IT automation

IT is often an afterthought for small businesses, but it's a bad idea to underfund this area. A total of 44% of businesses plan to increase tech spending in 2020 according to a recent report, and if you aren't doing the same, you may be left behind.

And we’re talking about more than just IT spending — IT automation is a growing trend that can help small businesses reticent to allocate more of their budget to this area. Modern software provides tools that let you automate many tasks that take up a lot of time, such as accounting, customer service, or even marketing.

If you can’t afford to dedicate a full department to IT, automation will help.

Real-world example: IT management is a blossoming software category, with many interesting and innovative solutions. For example, SysAid will generate reports on assets, end-user surveys, and customer support requests. ServiceDesk Plus, another solution we've reviewed, will automatically assign tickets to available technicians.

Screenshot of SysAid’s asset-tracking dashboard.

SysAid allows users to track the status of assets in their business. Source: SysAid.


Blockchain

The more digital the business world gets, the more cybersecurity becomes a concern. Blockchain has long been discussed as a future tech innovation in business, but it’s become more practical in recent years — and it will become more widespread in the coming decade.

Big names like FedEx, Mastercard, and IBM have been making investments in blockchain, which can secure transactions and prevent costly cybersecurity incidents.

What exactly is blockchain and how can it be used in a small business? Cryptocurrency like Bitcoin is the most common example of this technology, but blockchain also helps you securely transmit sensitive documents or contracts with verification tools that ensure your data has not been compromised.

Real-world example: One company, Guardtime, has developed a "keyless" system to secure health records. Instead of using traditional digital signatures that use asymmetric key cryptography, their Keyless Signature Infrastructure (KSI) uses hash functions and a blockchain public ledger to secure information. This makes it easier to scale operations to grow with transaction volume and reduce settlement time.


VoIP technology

Small businesses don’t have to pay out the nose for expensive business phone systems with limited capabilities.

Today’s digital world makes Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology a great option for businesses that want to not only be able to make phone calls but also want a cloud-based service that allows everyone to stay connected no matter where they are in the world.

VoIP services also offer security, come at a lower cost, and have an improved call quality over legacy phone systems. VoIP teleconferencing allows your team to speak face-to-face even when you all can’t be in the office at the same time, increasing the flexibility of your organization.

Real-world example: You can find some great VoIP software reviewed by The Blueprint. Webex, for example, offers VoIP services and video conferencing to fit businesses of all sizes.


Mobile payment

Mobile and NFC payments are no longer a nice extra feature, it’s something your customers expect. And it’s easier for you as a business, so you should incorporate it no matter what.

Innovations like Apple Pay allow customers to use their phone to immediately pay at the register by simply holding their phone up to a scanner. And online mobile payments allow for one-click checkouts.

And we’re not just talking about consumers here. New mobile banking options for businesses are emerging that improve your company flexibility.

Real-world example: Venmo and CashApp are probably the best examples of how mobile payment has changed the world. Now, instead of friends having to split a check at a restaurant, one person can pay and everyone else can send money through an app to that person later without having to go to an ATM to get cash.


Telehealth for employees

Employee health care isn’t the first thing small business owners think when they wonder what kind of tech innovations can help them, but telehealth has big ramifications for how your business will run over the next decade and beyond.

Digital healthcare can save you and your employees both time and money. Workers can remotely connect with doctors for simple 15-minute visits rather than make a special trip to a doctor’s office, which reduces disruptions to the work week.

These telehealth options cost less money, take less time, are more convenient for your employees, and ensure everyone is healthier — everybody wins.

Real-world example: The Department of Veterans Affairs has been using telehealth services to stay connected to veterans with difficulty getting to a clinic or the hospital. VA providers can virtually send health data or meet, with no one having to go anywhere.


Start a pilot program

It’s not a good idea to try several of these innovations at once. Instead, start slowly by picking one innovation that seems most promising for your specific business needs and launch a pilot program.

For example, if chatbots intrigue and you’d like to try them, choose one of your employees to run the pilot program. Set up a chatbot on your website and have that employee monitor it to ensure it’s helping customers.

During this pilot program, develop a user manual to guide future employees if you decide to use it long term. Once the pilot program is over, evaluate the performance and decide whether to expand it to wider usage.

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